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What Was The First Electric Off-Roader?

In 2024, Land Rover has promised to launch what will be its first all-electric off-road vehicle as a milestone achievement towards its goal of producing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by the end of the decade.

They are not the only ones, of course, and there are even conversion kits that will transform a classic Land Rover Defender into an electric vehicle with the help of an engine rebuild specialist.

These are exciting times as we see glimpses into the future, but at the same time, old Land Rovers are so robust that many will still be around to drive side-by-side with their futuristic brethren.

However, off-roaders using battery power are surprisingly older than one might expect, with the first major attempt appearing on the market in exceptionally limited quantities as early as 1997, over 25 years before Land Rover’s first.

Toyota wanted to produce a zero-emissions vehicle to meet a mandate set by the state of California that would ultimately be abandoned, and the result was an all-electric version of their popular RAV4, generally agreed to be the first crossover SUV ever made.

The Toyota RAV4 EV was initially sold as a fleet vehicle replacing its typical engine with a 50 kilowatt motor powered by a 27.4 kilowatt-hour nickel-metal hydride battery (NiMH) that provided an estimated range of 95 miles.

These were small steps but relatively impressive in an age before lithium-ion power packs, and the batteries took about five hours to charge, meaning that with a little preparation and care it was one of the first electric vehicles alongside the infamous General Motors EV1 to be viable for road use.

Despite being a short-term experiment discontinued in 2003, demand from consumers was exceptionally strong, and unlike the EV1 that was infamously recalled and destroyed, all 328 models were sold to users, and some have over 150,000 miles on the clock using their original battery packs.

Whilst a well-designed and well-maintained internal combustion engine is likely to survive longer than a battery pack, it is impressive and speaks to the potential future viability of electric off-roaders.

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